Author Swag: Love It or Leave It?

Our topic this week is Author Swag. 

What’s that, you ask? Basically, author swag is anything an author gives away to readers to promote their books.  Bookmarks are the most common, but I’ve seen all kinds of creative items–miniature book replicas on a keychain, notebooks, pens, coasters, mugs, tote bags, mousepads–all customized with an image of the book or the series the author is trying to promote. One author I know just posted online that she’s packing an entire suitcase with swag for an upcoming conference. Yikes–should I be doing the same?

So here’s my question, actually questions (plural):

  1. What is the most creative or useful author swag you’ve ever received?
  2. Do you think author swag helps sell books?

Keenan: The most creative swag I’ve received was an eyeglass cleaning cloth from Debra Goldstein. I kept that thing long past its usefulness. I don’t think swag sells books but it’s good for name recognition. I read somewhere a buyer needs to hear your name seven times before they will purchase, so the bookmark they take home would count towards that.

Connie: I’ve never seen a personalized eyeglass cleaner, but that would be definitely useful! 

Alexia: I also got one of Debra Goldstein’s eyeglass cleaners. I think I still have it. I go with pens. I figure those are useful so people will grab them. They tend to disappear from the swag table quickly. They aren’t super expensive, even for nice metal-bodied ones.  I don’t think they sell books, but they do remind people of my name. And if someone who picks up a pen leaves it lying someplace, another person is likely to pick it up. And if they loan the pen, that’s another person who sees my name. Bonus, which will be understood by anyone who has seen the 2020 version of Candyman: A promotional pen can be used to save your life. On the receiving end, I confess I have a fondness for edible swag, like chocolate or hard candy. It was much appreciated during some long conference days when I didn’t get a chance to eat. I also pick up keychains if the thing-a-ma-bob is kitschy, like a retro hotel key tag or toy flamingo, or practical, like a bottle opener or flashlight.

Connie: I haven’t seen the 2020 version of Candyman, Alexia, but I can just about picture the scene! Edible swag is great. I remember getting a little packet of two chocolates from someone but confess I don’t remember who it was. Edible may be appreciated, but when they’re gone, they’re gone. As you say, something with the author’s name on it has a longer life.

Tracee: I agree! Things people need. Pens and bookmarks for me  (and I’ll add eyeglass cleaners to that list). It is about name recognition over time (that pen that lurks on your desk or in your handbag) and not about immediate book sales.

Emilya: I’ve also never bought anything because of swag, but I like getting bookmarks because I always need them. That said, I end up using scraps of napkins, bobby pins, and gum wrappers for bookmarks instead, so I don’t even know if the bookmarks work as intended. My publicist sent me shortbread cookies with my book cover on them. That was nice. Ultimately, I don’t know if swag sells books. Not even totally sure if it adds to author recognition. If it was all about author recognition, I’d put just my name in really large letters on a bookmark, with my website link and some blurbs in much, much smaller text on the other side. I wouldn’t even reference a book. Just the name. Like Madonna. Or Elvis. 

Connie: And I can say I knew you when! About bookmarks, though, yesterday I was cleaning out my office and decided to throw away two small boxes of leftover bookmarks from previous books. A woman happened to be at my house and said, “Oh, don’t throw those away. I’ll take them. My daughter uses bookmarks all the time at college.” Now I just have to see if my sales among college-age women in Ohio start to trend upward.

Alexia: I put my name and website on my pens, rather than book titles.

Connie: A smart idea, Alexia. If I’d done that, I wouldn’t have thrown away several hundred old bookmarks. Which reminds me–I need new ones! 

Catherine: I don’t think swag sells books. I’ve been the recipient of bookmarks, pens, pads, keychains, notebooks, candy, and other items. I’ve even used some of them, but I’ve never bought a book based on it. Having said that, I do give away bookmarks that contain the book’s blurb hoping someone reads them and gets interested. I also put together a brochure with the book’s cover and the text of my Dru’s Musings post–A Day in the Life of Chiara Corelli–and paid to have it included in the conference bag at a GCLS conference (readers and writers). I happened to be near the registration desk and was wowed by the number of people standing around reading it. I don’t know if it sold books but I believe it built name recognition.

Tracee: I’ve also made little book brochures, and was surprised to see people reading them. They do these for big releases at conferences (books not yet out) so there must be some merit, right? Plus, people are reading them. I’ve done these mainly for smaller conferences (Killer Nashville), but in the end who knows if they have any impact. I’m sort of back to pens and bookmarks for a longer purpose of name recognition. 

Connie: Name recognition takes time, doesn’t it? Every little bit helps.

Michele: I am not a fan of swag. I think of it as litter. Like Keenan, I enjoyed an eyeglass cleaner once (but don’t remember who gave it away – to my point!) and Hank (Phillippi Ryan) gave away a great lip gloss back when she was writing her first series, but I will buy every book the woman ever writes, she has been so generous to me over the years. No need for swag. I normally sweep swag into the trash bin in my hotel room before I leave a conference. That leaves more room for books. I don’t consider bookmarks “swag” because they serve a function. Also, the amount of time people spend thinking about, creating swag is time I would prefer to spend writing or reading. Do I sound a little cranky?

Connie: Just practical, Michele. When I was first published, I thought I had to follow the crowd. Now I usually just tuck a few items in with books won in contests–bags of English tea and prepackaged shortbread cookies. 

Catherine: Michelle, I also toss the swag included in the conference bag into the trash in my hotel room. But I know swag can be expensive so if it is left on the table or being handed out during an event, I just don’t take it.  

Sharon: I don’t like swag unless it’s useful. When I was an industry analyst, I attended a client conference almost every other week for years. I got swagged out. I would dutifully collect my conference bag and head back to my room where I threw pretty much every single piece of swag away. 

 I confess when my grandkids were little, I’d collect the weird toys to bring home to them, and you can always buy me with chocolate, but otherwise, I won’t carry it around and I won’t bring it home with me.  

I can’t read physical books anymore because my eyes are so bad. I read on my iPad or Kindle, with the font enlarged so I can see it. It’s so big Jack swears he can read it from across the room. So bookmarks just hit the trash. Same for business cards, unless we have a personal connection, and even most pens–although I do have a fondness for gel pens with pink or purple ink.

My favorite piece of swag I got from Hank Phillippi Ryan at one of her retreats. It was a door hanger–like you see in hotel rooms. One side said Mystery Writer at Work, do not disturb. I forget what the other side said. It worked great for keeping Jack out of my office when I was trying to write. Sadly, it fell on the floor one day and my dog (not Molly) ate it.

Tracee: I still have one of Hank’s buttons. She has done some great stuff over the years, which we clearly remember…. On the other hand, as Michele said, we buy her books because we love them and because she is such an incredibly generous person. So the swag is just a bonus reminder. 

Susan: I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book because of swag, but it definitely creates author recognition, and I’ve bought books by those authors later. I read somewhere that a person has to see your name seven times before they remember it. Or maybe that’s just me. I have very pretty bookmarks that I get at moo [] and people do take them. I also have Maggie Dove recipes printed onto bookmarks. 

Connie: Thanks, Miss Demeanors! We’re all pretty much in agreement–author swag may help name recognition, but it doesn’t really sell books. I feel so much better! Now I don’t have to pack that extra suitcase.

But what do READERS think about swag? Love it or leave it? 

We’d love to hear from you–either below or on our Facebook page. One lucky commenter this month will win a signed copy of Catherine Maiorisi’s wonderful new Chiara Corelli mystery, Legacy in the Blood.


    1. Yes, the mini-cards with the rounded edges. There’s something sturdy about them, so you don’t feel like people are just going to toss them out.

  1. I’m so sad that as the professed Queen of Swag, mine didn’t make the post! Y’all must have missed my measuring spoong and cake cutters, lol. 🤣🤣🤣

  2. When I attend Malice, I gather all the bookmarks left at Malice go round and other places at the conference. I drive, so I don’t have to fit them in my suitcase. I then take the stuff to my local library. They especially love getting the bookmarks. I like receiving pens.

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